Parents, educators and school administrators from across northern Georgia voiced concerns ranging from the balance of funding to the controversial common core curriculum during an educational summit in Dahlonega last week.
The second of six listening sessions organized by the Georgia General Assembly's Joint Educational Committee, state lawmakers spent Oct. 8 meeting with school superintendents, school board members and the public to hear their issues with the state's education system.
State Rep. Kevin Tanner, of Dawsonville, and State Sen. Steve Gooch of Dahlonega, hosted the event at the University of North Georgia.
Tanner said he was proud to be a part of the landmark effort by the state to gauge public opinion on education in Georgia.
"I think we need to do more to of that, as state committees, go out into the areas across the state, listen to our constituents and take their input and concerns back to Atlanta," he said. "We cannot govern in a bubble and what's great about tonight is we heard from school superintendents, we heard from school board members, we heard from parents, we heard from activists, the whole gamut of people was represented tonight."
Among the topics discussed were the allocation of local option sales tax for education, the impact of state cuts on local school systems and Georgia's controversial Common Core curriculum.
Gooch said hearing the variety of ideas about education from such a diverse crowd of attendees was evident that Georgians are unhappy with the current state of education, specifically regarding the curriculum.
"There were some very well-informed people there that are concerned about common core in Georgia. Those are the people I like to listen to because they have their children in the schools," he said. "
"I think we have a concern in what to do with Common Core. We've got to decide what we want the curriculum to be in Georgia and stick with it and let it work its way through the system, but I don't think it should start from the federal government. I'm interested in seeing how we can develop our own standards and our own curriculum and of course, the local school boards need to have more input in that."
Nicky Gilleland, former school superintendent in Dawson County, said the state's number one concern should be education as a driver for the economic improvement.
"The last few years, we've spent most of our money on fads that benefit a few people and don't address the needs of all our children. Let's focus our common resources on all children. A strong public education system with strong neighborhood schools is the best choice for our children," he said.
Lee Ann Frix, the mother of three children attending elementary school in Dawson County, agrees that change must address individual student needs, like those of her young son who struggles with reading and math.
"It's very emotional because I'm also a person that struggled in school. I feel like the teachers have so...much red tape that they have to deal with in teaching, where teaching our kids...is the lesser of the priorities," she said.
Smaller classroom sizes could be one answer, according to Frix.
"My son needs more one on one attention and I know there are a lot of [other] kids out there. It's the state's responsibility to make sure these kids are getting the education they need," she said.
Tanner called the listening session a success.
"I think the overriding theme that we heard tonight is that people come about it from different angles, different life experiences, but everyone who spoke tonight was concerned about the future of education in Georgia and the future of their children's education," he said.
"They all have different ideas of how Georgia should move forward, but everyone has the same concern and that is that quality education is important for children of the state."